Clause 6 - Types of pre-registration procedure

Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 21st October 2004.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry 3:30 pm, 21st October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in

clause 6, page 3, line 29, leave out from 'subject' to end of line 33 and insert 'to—

(a) section 21 (modified procedures for certain non-residents);

(b) Schedule 4 (former spouses one of whom has changed sex).'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment Nos. 24, 34 and 35.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

As I am optimistic, I think that we may get through this group of amendments relatively quickly and uncontroversially.

The amendments are technical and make minor drafting changes to ensure that relevant registration provisions read across accurately to one another. Amendments Nos. 21 and 34 are aimed at simplifying

clause 6(3) and clarifying paragraph 7(1) to schedule 4 so that there can be no confusion over which modifications apply to the procedures set out in clause 6 and those in schedule 4. The amendments have the effect that when schedule 4 applies, the modifications in paragraph 7 to schedule 4 apply in place of the modifications set out in clause 21. The modifications in question are those that apply when one of the proposed civil partners lives in England or Wales and the other resides in Scotland or Northern Ireland or is a member of Her Majesty's forces serving overseas.

Amendment No. 35 to paragraph 7(8) of schedule 4 corrects the calculation of the applicable period when the proposed civil partners were previously married and one of them has changed gender. The amendment also clarifies the application of the offences in clause 32(1)(a) and (2)(c). If two notices of a proposed civil partnership are required by a pre-registration procedure, it will be an offence for the civil partnership schedule to be issued before the end of the waiting period in respect of each notice of a proposed civil partnership. If only one notice is required, it will be an offence for the civil partnership schedule to be issued before the end of the waiting period in respect of that notice of a proposed civil partnership.

Amendment No. 24 corrects an error and amends clause 21(5)(e) so that when the standard procedure is used when one of the proposed civil partners lives in England or Wales and the other lives in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the applicable period is three months. In those circumstances, the applicable period starts from the date that the registration authority in England and Wales recorded the notice of proposed civil partnership. I hope that hon. Members will be able to support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry 3:45 pm, 21st October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 96, in clause 6, page 3, line 39, at end insert—

'( ) This section is also subject to section (Immigration control and formation of civil partnerships) and Schedule (Immigration control and formation of civil partnerships) (immigration control and formation of civil partnerships).'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments Nos. 97 and 98.

Government new clause 10—Immigration control and formation of civil partnerships.

Government new schedule 3—Immigration control and formation of civil partnerships.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

The amendments relate to clause 6. The amendments, the new clause and the new schedule are intended to prevent people from forming civil partnerships solely in order to circumvent the immigration rules. Similar concerns about marriage are met by sections 19 to 25 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.

The new schedule will apply if two people wish to register as civil partners and one of them is subject to immigration control. It contains two new requirements

that must be met in order to form a civil partnership. First, the notices must be given at a designated centre. Secondly, the person subject to immigration control must meet the qualifying condition.

Under paragraph 4(1) of the new schedule, each notice of proposed civil partnership may only be given to one of a restricted number of registration authorities, to be specified in regulations. Furthermore, in England and Wales, each notice may only be given to a relevant individual and must be given by both parties to the civil partnership together and in person. The relevant individual is such employee, officer or other person provided by the specified registration authority as is determined in accordance with regulations.

A person subject to immigration control will be able to form a civil partnership only if they satisfy the qualifying condition set out in paragraph 2 of the new schedule. The qualifying condition mirrors that which exists in sections 19, 21 and 23 of the 2004 Act. A person subject to immigration control will satisfy the qualifying condition only if they have an entry clearance for the purpose of forming a civil partnership, if they have the written permission of the Secretary of State or if they fall within a class specified in regulations.

The Government have taken firm and decisive action to counter the abuse of immigration law by sham marriages, and are determined that civil partnership will not be open to similar abuse.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

A brief question. How can the Minister be sure that people seeking to enter civil partnerships who are subject to immigration control will comply with the provisions of the new schedule, and what will happen if they do not?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

First, it will be very clear that the responsibility falls on those who want to enter a civil partnership, and it will also be the case that there will be designated authorities in the same way as there are for sham marriages. I shall get guidance as to what would happen if someone entered a civil partnership without going through those procedures, but the very fact that the procedures are in the Bill will be a considerable strengthening, as it is with marriage, over the current situation. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, even if there is a way around it, that is an appropriate way for the Government to restrict in such circumstances.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It seems from what the Minister says that this is a wing and a prayer exercise. For example, as I understand it, there is no requirement for someone who is subject to immigration control to produce a passport document that will indicate to the registrar that they are subject to immigration control. Indeed, there is no requirement at all that someone who is a foreign national should have to produce any documentation at all or that documentation showing nationality or status in the country has to be produced before such a ceremony can take place.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

Actually, as is the case with marriage, notice requires certain pieces of evidence of status to be given. That might include a birth certificate or passport. If that evidence has to be given, it will

quickly become evident whether there is at least the possibility that the person in question is open to immigration control. The situation is far from what the hon. Gentleman accused it of being, which is a wing and a prayer. I return to what I said, which is that I hope that he will recognise the provisions as an important step forward in preventing the opportunity of evading immigration control through sham civil partnerships.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I am sure that the Minister would not want me to use the dreaded words ''primary purpose'', or want such a parallel to be drawn. However, is she now saying that if the proper immigration procedures have been circumvented, resulting in a civil partnership, that could be sufficient grounds subsequently for annulment?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

I think that I am saying that. Had the requirements laid down in legislation for notice not been given validly, that would be grounds for annulment.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I seek clarification in the opposite direction from the hon. Member for Christchurch. Many of us will have dealt with immigration cases involving non-British nationals wanting to marry British nationals and seeking entry. We can all make our own judgments about how the immigration authorities determine who is or is not a proper person. Can the Minister clarify the procedure whereby a homosexual couple could persuade the immigration authorities that they have a bona fide reason for one of them who is not a UK citizen to contract a civil partnership?

Reading the Bill as it stands—and I have been drafting an amendment, which may or may not be necessary, on exactly this issue—the best comparison that I can make is the fiancé visa for heterosexual couples. That gives permission to enter the country with a view to marrying a British national, subject to a time limit—usually a booked marriage date—as a condition. Am I to interpret that such a requirement would also be available to same-sex couples? Or, as in the amendment that I have been drafting, would there need to be an express direction in the Bill to allow that? The status of same-sex couples in such a situation is not clear.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

I think that I made it clear that in order to enter a civil partnership, the partners would need to fulfil one of three qualifying conditions, which mirror the relevant provisions for marriage. They would satisfy conditions if they have an entry clearance for the purpose of forming a civil partnership. I think that that covers the hon. Gentleman's point.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.